Occasional paper: The Effect of COVID-19 on Community Payback Order Unpaid Work or Other Activity Requirements

This is an occasional statistical paper examining the effects of COVID-19 on Community Payback Order unpaid work or other activity requirements at Scotland level.

This document is part of a collection


The Scottish Government receive ‘unit level data’ on each CPO commenced and completed from Scottish local authority justice social work teams annually. This data contains specific information about individual CPOs and is only used for statistical analysis. This information has been collected from local authorities since 2012-13 and the results are published on the Scottish Government website. These annual publications provide more information about CPOs and their requirements. A CPO can have up to 10 requirements. The average number of requirements was around 1.5 to 1.6 per order in the years 2017-18 to 2021-22. When a CPO ends, it can have various outcomes. The main outcomes are: successful completion, early discharge, revoked due to review, revoked due to breach, transferred out of the area and death.

However, this analysis looks specifically at an unpaid work or other activity requirement and whether or not it was successfully completed, as well as the date on which it was completed/terminated.

This unit level collection has specific pieces of information for every order. It does collect information on the number of hours imposed and the number of hours successfully completed unpaid work requirements, but it has never collected information on hours outstanding for unsuccessfully completed unpaid work requirements. Throughout the paper, the emphasis will be on the outstanding hours for these requirements. A successfully completed unpaid work requirement usually means that all hours set by the court were completed by the individual. An unsuccessfully completed unpaid work requirement means that the total hours imposed were not completed by the individual. As this information is not available, the model estimates this using upper and lower limits.

Figure 2: CPO total unpaid work hours successfully completed, Scotland 2011-12 to 2021-22
A bar chart from 2011-12 to 2012-11 , with 6 of 11 years having over a million hours of unpaid work successfully completed

Source: Justice Social Work statistics 2011-12 to 2021-22

Figure 2 shows that, for successfully completed requirements, over a million unpaid work hours a year on average were completed between 2013-14 and 2019-20. In the pandemic years (2020-21 and 2021-22) there was a large drop. This was due to a number of Covid-19-related factors as follows:

  • Lower volumes of cases going through courts.
  • A lower proportion of CPOs being given out with unpaid work requirements.
  • The effect of national lockdowns and other measures to keep people safe.

The model uses the information that is collected in the unit level data to estimate outstanding unpaid work hours over time up to 31 March 2022. The second part of the analysis estimated the outstanding unpaid work hours from disposals dashboard management information on CPOs from April 2022 to March 2023.


Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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